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By Jason Mitchell
When conjuring up images of catching walleyes, one often doesn’t consider casting crank baits. When you tell someone that you caught fish with Shad Raps, most will assume you caught those fish trolling. Early in the year or whenever walleyes are up shallow, casting can often be the most effective way to get a crankbait in front of fish. On many fisheries, like North Dakota’s Devils Lake for example, walleyes will often hold in shallow water and crankbaits are often needed to eliminate miles of shoreline.
Long Casts, Accurate Casts
When catching walleyes up shallow with crankbaits, your skills at casting often become more important than good boat control skills. Over the long haul, you will catch many more fish by making long casts. Walleyes can become really skittish in shallow water. Stay as far back as you can and rely on getting the crankbait up there with your arm. Where flooded bushes, weedbeds and timber is concerned, accurate casts will save you crankbaits and keep you in the water fishing. Often, it seems like chop on the water or overcast skies will bring fish out of the cover. When fish start relating closer to the vegetation, accurate casting can become so important when you have to go right in after them
Heavy crankbaits like Countdowns and Rattling Raps can be thrown further than balsa or plastic crankbaits and can be ripped through the wind easier. That alone doesn’t necessarily make them better but is something to consider when choosing which crankbait to use. On Devils Lake, the number 5 and 7 Countdowns and Shad Raps are all good choices. Berkley Frenzies, Rattling Rogues and Husky Jerks are other good choices at times.
A stop and go retrieve often seems to work well so don’t be afraid to work the rod tip and give the lure some life. When bringing the lure back to the boat, stalling the lure below the boat can often account for an extra fish or two. It often seems like walleyes will follow the lure back to the boat and hit it just as the bait is changing direction and starts heading up. So in other words, don’t reel the crankbait right up to the rod tip. There are many cases where you can actually see walleyes following your lure back. The green on their backs blends in really well but you can see the white on their tails. Where pike will generally try to take the fight up in the trees or whatever else they can wrap your line around. Walleyes will typically run right at the boat. About the only hazard becomes the trolling motor as they race below the boat. Whoever says that walleyes don’t fight have never caught a walleye in shallow water via casting. These fish don’t want to see the inside of your boat once they get hooked. Casting crankbaits makes for some really enjoyable walleye fishing.
Look for Subtle Clues
So often, many anglers try to look for too much when fishing shallow water. There isn’t going to be any magical drop off. All too often, we catch fish in an area and there aren’t really too many indications as to why a spot can be so good. The structure can be very subtle in shallow water. Some bushes and weed beds are easy to see and the reasons why fish are in a particular spot can be pretty obvious. On the other hand, there are some spots that don’t jump out at you and scream "fish." There might be nothing more than a change in bottom composition, perhaps a slight lip that runs along the shoreline, maybe an odd rock or two, might not be much at all.
(photo at left By using the dual frequency capabilities of Vexilar's Edge LC-507, an angler can get a better understanding of the all too often subtle bottom changes in shallow water.)The composition of the shoreline will often tell you what lies below. Comparing the composition of the shoreline to what you read on your depthfinder can also give you more clues. When evaluating weed beds and bottom composition in shallow water with sonar, nothing beats a small cone angle with a high frequency. The problem with most depthfinders is the fact that they have too low of frequencies for shallow water. The truth is, most of the depthfinders on the market either excel in shallow water or deep, but not both. The problem for myself is I don’t spend the whole year casting crankbaits up into five feet of water and I don’t spend the whole year trolling in twenty feet of water. We fish a variety of depths, depending on an endless list of variables. Vexilar’s Edge LC-507 runs two frequencies off two transducers, enabling you to switch depending on the situation at hand. A standard twenty-degree transducer might not show you much in six feet of water but the depth and a bunch of clutter. A narrower beam, however, will give you a better idea of exactly where the weed beds start and stop when probing shallow water. I have been using the unit for about a year and a half and it is really exciting exploring all of the applications.
How Wind Can Affect the Shallows
Generally speaking, casting crankbaits has been an early summer fling for us the last couple of years up on Devils Lake. One scenario that puts walleyes up shallow in a heartbeat, regardless of the time of year however, is wind. I noticed last summer that walleyes sometimes related more to where and how the water got dirty because of the waves than actual structure or cover on the bottom. I have noticed mud lines on my depthfinder before but I never noticed the degree of water clarity up in shallow water until I used the narrow 400kHz cone angle on the Vexilar Edge. The water was like chocolate milk through the top three feet. The next couple of feet lightened up. I could see how the debris in the water got less as the depth got deeper by looking at the graph. I thought I was looking at a gray scale with black on top and white on the bottom. The fish weren’t up where the water was really turned up but weren’t out of the stained water either. The in between zone seemed to be the magic number.
The wind kept howling through out the week and this column of dirty water kept getting bigger and deeper. As the in between zone of dirty water and clear water kept pushing deeper, so did the fish. By the end of the week, after consecutive days of thirty to forty miles per hour winds, the lake was really churned up and the fish were in twenty feet of water. Each day, the fish moved deeper. I picked how deep I fished crankbaits by how deep the churned up water showed up on the graph. By the end, I had to troll and couldn’t get down to fish anymore by casting.
So often today, we pick techniques or methods based on the location or mood of the fish. How many times do we troll just because the situation dictates that we troll but we might not necessarily enjoy catching walleyes by trolling as much as we might enjoy jigging for example. We tend not to choose where and how we fish for the entertainment value nearly as much as we should. There are many ways to skin a cat. There are many ways to catch a walleye as well. I can think of few predicaments as entertaining however as finding walleyes up shallow and making them mad with crankbaits.
To experience the thrill of casting crankbaits for walleyes, contact Mitchells Guide Service by calling (701) 351-1890. Devils Lake, North Dakota's finest fishing.
Jason Mitchell is a Licensed Guide on Devils Lake, North Dakota.
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